Basin Notes - January 2002

Pinkfoot travellers

In a late November goose count it was a thrill for the Angus ranger Ben Herschell to recognise a pair of pink foot wearing silver neck collars marked RH and FLT.

He had picked them up during last winter at Dun's Dish and near the Widgeon Hide at Montrose Basin.

Their individual travels had taken them to Lancashire, Norfolk and Aberdeenshire, all recorded since their silver neck rings were attached in central Iceland at Naufalda in 1999.

Goose monitoring is ongoing at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, set up by Sir Peter Scott.

Ben and other counters will scan the flock for occasional rarely seen geese such as the red breasted goose from Siberia.

Other birds overwintering on the Basin are the various diving ducks - the eider, mergansers and goosanders, numerous shelduck, wigeon and mallard as well as teal.

These often prefer dabbling in the shallow pools on the Rossie Spite below the visitor centre.

There are innumerable waders, the ubiquitous redshank, the oystercatcher and lapwing as well as curlew and godwit, all looking like a musical score along the water's edge. An occasional snipe may zig-zag out of the core of reeds.

A record of all these sightings is made and regularly updated.

Plants, too, feature in the scientific research programme. Some native species are only just clinging on in their natural home.

As numbers decline, the chances of plants crossing or hybridising are fewer, hence there may be a loss of genetic diversity.

One example, the native Scottish primrose, Primula Scotica, pink with a yellow eye, is one of Scotland's very few endemic plants, a native of Orkney and some areas at the northern tip of Scotland.

The application of biotechnology for the conservation of rare and endangered plants is becoming increasingly important.

The scientific team under Dr Eric Benson of the University of Abertay has been successfully applying micro propagation techniques to help their colleagues in the Orkney Islands to re-establish a healthy population of these primroses at the Hill of White Hamars Conservation Project, Hoy.

At the wildlife centre we have had a go. This time the yellow flowered common primrose, Primula Vulgaris, which has been planted in good numbers from cultivated wild primrose stock.These were planted by children on Primrose Day last May and are looking healthy.

According to the previous occupants of Lilac Cottage on Rossie Braes, there was always a great show of primroses on this bank when they themselves were children, and it was special to them. It will be 12 days to Christmas, the hustle and bustle, and then by 12th Night the day light will begin to stretch. An old Scots saying is: "As the day lengthens, the cauld strengthens".

Birds and wild creatures forage eagerly in the hedges and undergrowth, seeking food and shelter.

Your own garden birds will appreciate an apple as well as crumbs and seeds.

Keep an eye out for waxwings on the berried bushes.

Fieldfares and redwing flock over the field, finches and tits will be found in small flocks working along a tree-lined hedge, flicking in and out of cover, wary of the watchful kestrel and sparrowhawk.

A traditional time for checking the weather vane is St Thomas' Day: the wind may remain in the same quarter for the next three months.

Another old tradition associated with St Thomas' Day is "begging by poor women" and now, therefore, the annual payouts of some charities are made just in time for the recipients to enjoy a better Christmas.

Simple things can be uplifting such as the wonder in a child's face on lighting a candle and commemorating the birth of a child long ago and its significance today.

Generosity and the best in people looking out for vulnerable neighbours, including the wildlife, comes out at Christmas.

Like the poor begging women on St Thomas' Day, the Scottish Wildlife Trust has asked Montrosians for help in its current campaign, aimed at refreshing the interpretive areas of the wildlife centre and giving people a fuller experience.

It also means to upgrade the access for people with disabilities to the mezzanine floor and to the teaching area downstairs.